Samanthi Jayawardena, Head of Purchasing at Cinnamon Hotels & Resorts
As the only woman holding a senior role in purchasing in Sri Lanka, Jayawardena’s entrance to the field was not pre-planned. After completing her education, she worked in the transport division of John Keells Holdings (JKH) as a trainee accounts clerk. Thereafter, Jayawardene worked at Maersk, the largest container ship and supply vessel operator in the world. Wanting to re-join JKH, she took up a position in the company’s leisure sector, Cinnamon Hotels & Resorts, as a purchasing executive in 2010.
“In finance, there’s a guideline for everything. There is not such set framework in purchasing. I feel my background in finance has given me a sense of discipline, which has been useful in introducing certain processes to give purchasing more structure,” she says.
The career ladder
Dispelling all doubts cast on her ability to handle responsibilities, Jayawardena quickly rose up the ladder. In 2012, she was promoted to Head of Purchasing after serving as an assistant manager. Currently overlooking a staff of 14 and with senior management support, she has made great strides in elevating purchasing standards not just for the company, but the sector as a whole. Seven years on, Jayawardena still plays an instrumental role in introducing practices and systems to overcome challenges in the sector.
Headed by Jayawardena, the department manages purchasing for 13 hotels categorised into city hotels, resorts and Maldivian resorts (two more hotels will join later this year). City hotels include Cinnamon Grand, Cinnamon Lakeside and Cinnamon Red. In addition are the resorts Hikka Tranz, Cinnamon Bey, Cinnamon Wild, Habarana Village, Cinnamon Lodge, Trinco Blu and Cinnamon Citadel. The two Maldivian properties are Ellaidhoo Maldives and Cinnamon Dhonveli Maldives.
“In finance, there’s a guideline for everything. There is not such set framework in purchasing”
Jayawardena and her team handle the entire purchasing process for Sri Lankan resorts. They also centralise the ordering and documentation process for the three city hotels and Maldivian properties, each of which has its own purchasing department. Only 30% of the Maldivian purchasing is managed by the head office due to logistical reasons.
The human element
Overcoming brand bias is one of the biggest challenges in purchasing. Loyalty or preference towards a brand, irrespective of the quality and price, is an obstacle that impedes the efficacy of the supply chain. In an effort to eliminate human biases and provide quality products at the best price, Jayawardena and her team have developed and introduced blind testing. All food, beverage and linen items are subject to blind tests after the quality of the samples have been pre-approved by the purchasing department.
“We try our best to be as transparent as possible and introduce ethical business practices wherever possible. We are the only company to practice blind testing during the purchasing process, and this has helped us provide equal opportunities to our suppliers,” she emphasises.
Technology also plays a role in making the supply chain process more efficient. In March, the purchasing department she leads saved a total of Rs5 million during the procurement process by using an online platform developed by JKH. The custom-designed system helps find vendors, request for supplies and carry out transparent negotiations, which minimise favouritism towards certain brands. Only suppliers who have been pre-qualified are able to register on the system, ensuring that quality is always upheld.
However, in addition to all process improvements, satisfying the requirement of the client, whether it’s the executive chef or the head of housekeeping, is still the priority of the purchasing department.
As the Head of Purchasing for Sri Lanka’s largest leisure sector, Jayawardena considers creating healthy competition in the supply market as one of her prime responsibilities. “Providing equal opportunities to small suppliers and helping them establish themselves in the market is one of our key focus areas.”
Prior to the Easter attacks, the purchasing department had taken a decision to absorb price differences in order to promote small vendors, particularly importers. However, in the aftermath, with tourist numbers dwindling fast and the scale of purchases dropping, the company has decided to postpone its implementation.
“Providing equal opportunities to small-time suppliers and helping them establish themselves in the market is one of our key focus areas”
Innovation in purchasing
With the same motivation, to encourage small local vendors to enter the market, Jayawardena initiated a programme to provide advice on improving quality standards. These programmes are held annually after carrying out an independent suppliers audit across the Cinnamon leisure sector. Due to the limited number of auditors available in Sri Lanka, the audits are carried out in city hotels from January to March, and from April to June at the seven resorts. Subsequent to the audit, the purchasing team provides non-financial advice on their shortcomings for those who have room for improvement. The programme, which was introduced three years ago, monitors the progress of vendors for a period of two years.
“These programmes have been very useful for small-time vendors. I have seen many of them improve the quality of their products and compete in the market alongside some of the bigger suppliers,” Jayawardena says.
Trusting that the supplier always provides the approved quality is another common mistake made in the industry. Despite having pre-approved the quality of products, vendors still tend to deliver subpar items, more often for large scale orders. To mitigate this malpractice, Jayawardena and her team carry out random spot checks at the hotels. In addition, she signs a performance bond with large scale suppliers, with the exception of those who provide perishables such as vegetables and fruits, which provides a safety net for buyers, who are able to recover damages in the event of shortfalls or quality issues.
Undaunted by new challenges that lie ahead, Jayawardena has 100% confidence in her team and is determined to ensure that their ethical business practices are recognised internationally over the next two years.